Day 345: Anatomy of a beat-up

Day 345: Anatomy of a beat-up

Monday, December 11, 2017

In its continuing coverage of China’s influence in Australia, the ABC published what it describes as an “exclusive“. A few people have told me that my views and my criticisms of the ABC in this area are unfounded; so on this occasion, I decided to write down everything that went through my mind as I read the piece. Now remember, this story appears at the top of the ABC’s news site. It is their leading story. It is billed as an exclusive. Here goes…


“Australian universities accused of sharing military technology with China”

There is much suspicion of Chinese influence in Australia right now, so this is sure to generate interest.


Para 1:
“The Defence Department has been accused of turning a blind eye to universities illegally sharing military technology with China.”

Who is making the accusation? What is the law that is being broken? And since attention is being specifically brought to the practice of sharing military technology, why is it a bad thing? After all, Australia shares military technology with many nations.


Para 2:
“Former senior defence official Peter Jennings has told AM there was a “likelihood” universities were breaking strict export controls on technology that could be used for military purposes.”

So, a former government official is making the accusation. Is he still in the loop? How long has he been out of it? And before we even get into that, he’s not even making an accusation – he’s just saying that it’s likely to be happening. In other words, he actually has no idea whether it’s happening at all. I hope you have more than just the musings of a former government official; but please, do elaborate on these “export controls”.


Para 3 + pullquote:
“He said the time had come for the Defence Department to conduct a deep and immediate investigation. “The department should now be looking to audit the performance of universities because we are talking about the mass migration over to Chinese interests and that’s not in Australia’s commercial, or indeed national, security interests,” he said.”

Uh-huh. Is this a view shared by the Defence Department?


Para 4:
“There are strict rules banning the sharing of research that could be used for military purposes by Australia’s potential foes, including China.“

You already alluded to this before. Would you please kindly elaborate?


Para 5:
“Australian universities conduct world-leading research in areas such as artificial intelligence, super computing and driverless car technology that could be adapted for military purposes.”

Uh-huh. Sure, this is pretty well known.


Para 6:
“The Defence Department said it relied on self-assessment from universities to police their academics’ interactions with overseas academics.”

The Defence Department? So, not the former defence official you were just quoting? Also, I thought you said there were “strict rules banning the sharing of research”. These are your words, not a quote from someone else. I hate to be that guy, but describing a reliance on self-assessment as “strict” strikes me as a slight exaggeration.


Para 7:
“”It is ultimately the responsibility of each institution to ensure they comply with the law,” the Department told the ABC in response to questions about links between Australian and Chinese researchers.”

Okay, so it’s not the former defence official, then. Glad we straightened that out. I almost thought the two were one and the same. I’d question whether the distinction will be clear to most readers. Could you confirm that the former defence official and the Defence Department are singing the same tune on this, rather than conflating their opinions.

Also: you keep referring to these rules and laws and illegalities. I think it’s time you spelled them out, maybe on top-level terms?


Para 8:
“Charles Sturt University professor Clive Hamilton has uncovered hundreds of research projects linking Australian scientists with senior Chinese military figures.”

Ugh. You won’t tell me the laws. But fine. This is interesting. Please specify.


Para 9:
“At the centre of a web of questionable collaborations with Australian universities sit Yang Xuejun, a Lieutenant-General in China’s People’s Liberation Army who heads the country’s top defence research academy.”

Uh, you’re not really substantiating your claim from the previous paragraph at all. If it’s because you’re worried about being exposed to a claim in defamation from the university researchers, then perhaps you should not have run this element of the story at all… or conducted deeper research. What I’d question here is that in place of direct evidence, you’ve offered a mysterious Chinese lieutenant-general whom we should all assume is shady in some way and is associated with all of the badness at play. I assume you’ve approached him for comment?


Para 10 + pullquote:
“Professor Hamilton said much of those collaborations could mean Australian technology could be used against it on the battlefield. “There is no doubt some of the technology they are working on is being applied to improve the battle readiness of the PLA,” Professor Hamilton said.””

“Battlefield”? Are we at war with China? Are we even close to war with China? When the fuck did this happen? Last I heard, China was our largest trading partner – what on earth are we going to war over? Are you sure you’re not getting a bit ahead of yourself?


Para 11:
“Laws governing the export of defence technology were tightened in 2012 to include university research following the signing of a weapons treaty between Australia and the US.”

At long last, those laws I’ve been asking for. I realise I asked for top-line, but even this seems a bit light on detail, to be honest. I don’t see why it’s buried all the way at the bottom of the story. Bring this section up higher so that readers can understand what’s at issue.


Para 12:
“Professor Hamilton said questions about Australian universities collaborating with Chinese military researchers could damage relations with Australia’s biggest strategic ally.”

Ahh, the penny drops. This is about preserving Australia’s relationship with the US. Now I see why this section is buried at the bottom.

Are the collaborations with China in fact damaging relations with the US? I mean, this professor says they “could”, which is key. But the far more pertinent questions are will they? Have they?

This is the second-last para. I get the feeling you’re not going to provide any comment from the Australian government, or any Chinese officials, that guy from the Chinese army, or any universities that you think are sharing research with China. All you have at this stage are the musings of a former defence official whose connection to the Australian government could be questioned; and the research of a university professor that, for whatever reason, you’re not publishing.


Para 13:
“”I know that our research is being carefully read in Washington and hard questions are being asked of the Australian Government,” he said.”

I read a lot of rubbish, too.

One thought on “Day 345: Anatomy of a beat-up

  1. Because China is still sort of communist, and because of the large market that it represented, that is why every nation wants to be its friend, and at the same time, they don’t want the influences of China to get into their countries too much…

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